F-35 caucus urges continued support for production ramp, long-term sustainment

By Courtney Albon / May 4, 2021 at 4:13 PM

A group of 132 House lawmakers have reiterated their support for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, sending a letter to House Appropriations and Armed Services committee leadership advocating for continued investment in procurement and sustainment costs amid increased scrutiny of the program's performance.

The April 28 letter, signed by members of the JSF caucus, calls for increased funding for sustainment and support for the Defense Department's yet-to-be-released fiscal year 2022 procurement request, as well as any unfunded requirements lists from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

"The program is beginning to reach maturity and warrants continued support and investment to keep our fighter fleets relevant for decades to come," the letter states.

The letter comes as top House Democrats signal possible cuts to the program, including an abandonment of the regular practice of adding aircraft to the services' procurement requests. Speaking last month during a joint hearing of the House Armed Services readiness and tactical air and land forces subcommittees, Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ) said upping the F-35's buy rate has harmed the program and contributed to mounting sustainment costs.

"I can assure you that this year, if anybody suggests a plus-up, there will be one hell of a fight -- and I don't propose to lose it," Garamendi said.

But the letter's signatories argue the program needs to continue on its path to full-rate production, which includes 80 F-35As, 24 F-35Bs and 30 F-35Cs per year.

"We are concerned that any cuts in fiscal year 2022 will leave the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps with a capability gap that legacy aircraft or new variants thereof cannot fulfill, while also reducing the enterprise's ability to continue cost reduction activities at the planned rates, ultimately adding unnecessary life-cycle cost into the system," the letter states.

Meanwhile, acting Pentagon acquisition chief Stacy Cummings told lawmakers last week the department has plans to shift its focus from accelerating production to modernizing the aircraft from the current Block 3F capability to Block 4.

"Accelerating or increasing procurement quantities of Block 3F variants is counterproductive and wastes scarce resources as such planes will need to be pulled from the flight line and retrofitted when Block 4 capabilities deliver," Cummings told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee.